June 14, 2017
By Allie Perry.
Scripture: Genesis 18:4-5a (NRSV)
Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves...
I have just recently returned from walking a 50-mile portion of one of the French pilgrimage routes of Saint James, in France known as the Chemin de Saint Jacques, in Spain the Camino de Santiago. From the perspective of chronos time our four days of walking were too short; from a kairos perspective they were a taste of life in the kin-dom of God.
In Off the Road, an account of his experience walking the length of the Spanish route, from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Compostela, Jack Hitt observes, “What the modern pilgrim is exiled from is not a place but velocity.” So true. I loved slowing down; I craved it. I needed it. I savored going at a foot-step pace, wandering through quiet Basque villages, admiring calla lilies along stream beds, passing pastures of grazing cattle, sheep, miniature ponies, horses, and donkeys, and fields of wheat and yet to be planted turned earth, and, in our last two days, climbing rolling hills as we neared the snow-covered peaks of the Pyrenees.
The Chemin trail, marked with red and white blazes and the iconic scallop shell, led us, at times, on paths bordered with heirloom fruit trees – plums, apples, pears, peaches, cherries – recently planted by the Amis du Chemin for the pelerins or pilgrims. We encountered many other pilgrims along the way, some older, some younger, French, German, Dutch, Polish, Australian, none, interestingly enough, from the United States. At day’s end at each of the chambre d’hote where we were spending that night, we often found ourselves in company with some of the same pilgrims we had seen earlier along the way, greeting one another as if a reunion of long-time friends.
There, we removed our hiking boots, leaving them and the dust and mud of the road outside the lodge. Resting our tired feet, and refreshing our weary bodies, we dined together with dozens of other pilgrims at long tables, treated to the gracious and generous hospitality of our hosts. Like modern day Abrahams, they offered extravagant welcome, bringing us bread and spreading the board with delicious regional food, including local cheeses and wines.
We pilgrims managed to find the vocabulary to communicate, across language barriers, stories about where we had started, how far were we going, where we came from, and why we were walking. After our second day of walking, staying the night at Ferme Bohoteguia in Aroue, we explained to a Frenchman Michel, a seasoned pilgrim, that we were ‘beginners,’ more like tourists. “You may start as tourists,” Michel said with a knowing twinkle in his eye, “but you will leave as pilgrims.”
Indeed we did. In the words of the Pilgrim’s Song, we found that “With each step, we became brothers [and sisters],/ Patron Saint Jacques, hand in hand/ path of faith/ path of light/ way of the pilgrims.” There was something magical, dare I say, mystical about the bonds created with others along the way. More than camaraderie, we who had been strangers found ourselves reminded of and joined in the deep knowing of a common identity. We were then, and are now, pilgrims, making our way through the world -- some in sorrow, some in joy, some in comfort, some in pain – all taking one step at a time, trusting in and grateful for the open doors and warm hearts and hearths along the way.
“With each step, we become brothers and sisters.” Is not this a taste of the kin-dom of God?
Thank you, O God, for your extravagant welcome to all as your beloved children. And thank you for inviting us with each step we take, as we make our way on this life’s pilgrimage, to become brothers and sisters with all we meet.
The Rev. Allie Perry is pastor of Shalom United Church of Christ, in New Haven.
June 14, 2017